Democratic Centralism


4. What Has Been Our Experience?

THE EXPERIENCE of the organisation, particularly in those areas who consistently raise the subs and the fighting fund, is that if the necessary political approach is adopted, with the leadership setting the tone, resources can be acquired which both meet the needs of the national organisation and also benefit the branches.

Take the question of the fighting fund. The EC is not opposed to a certain 'experimentation' to see whether or not by different methods we could acquire greater resources all round. But it must be stressed here that the fighting fund plays an entirely different role than in earlier, more favourable periods for the organisation. In the past, the subs generated the resources to maintain our apparatus. The fighting fund was used, in the 1970s, to acquire the resources to buy premises, the press, nationally, as well as financing local centres, etc. But in the changed situation of the 1980s and 1990s that position no longer applies. The fighting fund, the minimum amount that is required by the national centre out of the total collected from the fighting fund, is absolutely essential to maintain the running of the national centre. Therefore, while we are in favour of any

scheme which can generate more resources for the national centre at the same time we reject any financial adventures which could actually deplete our resources nationally.

Branch Retention?

IT HAS been suggested, for instance, that a small percentage of the fighting fund should be retained by the branches. We do not believe that, at present, such a system would guarantee the resources required by the national centre for the reasons explained below. Does this mean that we reject any incentive for the branches to generate fighting fund? No! Moreover, there is a scheme already in operation which if it is implemented properly can give a big incentive to the branches. Wales have used their rebates to buy printing equipment which directly benefits the branches. The rebate which is allowed to the regions on the basis of reaching 70 per cent of the fighting fund target has allowed areas such as London to return some of their regional rebate back to the branches. There is no pressure in these regions, who consistently reach the fighting fund target such as the South West and Wales, for any additional 'incentives'. Is the social situation different in these regions compared to others who consistently fail to reach the fighting fund target? We don't believe so. It is a question of seriously setting about to reach the finance targets, which means political preparation, as well as the necessary organisational drive from the regions, the branch leadership, etc.


HOWEVER, THE emphasis on the national needs of the organisation, and with it the centralist aspect of democratic centralism, undoubtedly raises some doubts in the minds of particularly the newer, inexperienced comrades. These involve the "dangers", allegedly 'inherent', in an organisation in which the leadership plays such a vital role. What guarantees are there against a bureaucratic degeneration of the leadership? First of all there is the requirement to convene regular meetings of the NC, which controls the EC. There is the responsibility of the national leadership to convene these meetings, as well as regular congresses, etc. There is even a provision for branches to requisition an emergency congress.

However, even with these democratic aspects of our organisation, what 'guarantee' is there that a strictly democratic regime would exist. Nobody has raised these issues in our ranks, but perhaps they are unspoken in the minds of comrades who do not fully comprehend the nature of the revolutionary party in this epoch. This is not a new question. Leon Trotsky was asked to give a "clear and exact formula on democratic centralism" which would preclude false interpretations or bureaucratic degeneration. He replied that he could not give, "such a formula on democratic centralism that 'once and for all' would eliminate misunderstandings and false interpretations. A party is an active organism. It develops in the struggle with outside obstacles and inner contradictions... The regime of a party does not fall ready made from the sky but is formed gradually in the struggle. A political line predominates over the regime. First of all is necessary to define strategic problems and tactical methods correctly in order to solve them. The organisational form should correspond to the strategy and tactic." Trotsky then makes a fundamental point: "Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime."

Of course this does not automatically mean that if a party has a correct programme that its organisational methods will be correct. That is an issue for debate and discussion as to what emphasis should be given, to democracy or centralism, depending upon the different situations. A formula for democratic centralism must inevitably find a different expression in the parties of different countries and in different stages of development of one and the same party.


TROTSKY MAKES the pertinent comment:

"Democracy and centralism do not at all find themselves in an invariable ratio to one another. All depends on the concrete circumstances, on the political situation in the country, on the strength of the party and its experience, on the general level of its members, on the authority which the leadership has succeeded in winning.

"Before a conference when the problem was one of formulating a political line for the next period, democracy triumphs over centralism, when the problem concerns itself with political action, centralism subordinates democracy to itself. Democracy again asserts its rights when the party feels the need to examine critically its own actions.

"The equilibrium between democracy and centralism establishes itself in the actual struggle, at moments it is violated and then again re-established. The maturity of each member of the party expresses itself particularly in the fact that he does not demand from the party regime more than it can give.

"He is a poor revolutionist who defines his attitude to the party by the individual fillips that he gets on the nose. It is necessary, of course, to fight against every individual mistake of the leadership, every injustice and the like. But it is necessary to estimate these 'injustices' and 'mistakes' not by themselves but in connection with the general development of the party both on a national and international scale. A correct judgement and a feeling for proportion in politics is an extremely important thing." [Leon Trotsky: On Democratic Centralism and the Regime (1937)]

These invaluable remarks, we believe, should be absorbed by every comrade. The argument put forward that a decision to alter the proportions between the centre and the regions should always await the outcome of a decision of the national congress we believe is wrong. The NC is elected precisely to manage the organisation in between congresses. Sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, it even will be compelled in the light of changed circumstances to change the decision of the congress.

Some will squeal that this as an infringement of 'democracy'. It is nothing of the kind. An authoritative leadership must be prepared to act in what it considers is in the best overall interests of the national organisation, taking into account all the other needs, local, district and regional of the organisation. It is possible that the national leadership, even the best leadership, can make mistakes on issues like this. It must justify its decisions to the subsequent congress, which has the right to either endorse or reprimand the leadership and make the necessary changes.

A Discussion on Principles

WE HAVE touched on here only some of the most important general issues of the party, democratic centralism, and particularly how this relates to the problems that we confront at this stage. It may be necessary, in the future, to deal more fully with the historical experience of the revolutionary movement and of the working class and the forms of organisation which existed at different stages. While we have to examine carefully our terminology, in order that we do not raise unnecessary barriers in the minds particularly of the new generation that we hope to win, at the same time we must tenaciously cling to the concepts of the organisation which has served us and the working class so well in the past. This should not debar us from undertaking the necessary experimentation in forms of organisation which, without violating fundamental principles, allows us to involve comrades more in the organisation as well as reaching out to fresh layers who can join us in this period.

We hope the general points touched on here will be the subject of some discussion in the organisation, both those of a general character and also the detailed issues we have raised. Only in such an open discussion, without fear of confronting real problems and difficulties which face the revolutionary organisation at this stage, will we be able to face up to the very favourable situation that will develop for us in the period that we are going into.